Recently, I posted some of the things I learned at the “Dialogue Isn’t Talking” session at the Dramatists Guild conference in August. (Here are the links, in case you didn’t see the posts: Problems with dialogue in your plays, and how to fix them, part 1, and Problems with dialogue in your plays, and how to fix them, part 2.)
Another excellent and inspiring session was the one on “Dream Logic.” This one was led by Kato McNickle and David Crespy. Martin Kettling was supposed to be there, but he couldn’t come.
What is Dream Logic?
Think about a dream you had last night. Or recently. Did you try to describe it to somebody? If so, how did you explain it?
You probably used the phrase “dream logic” when you were trying to describe how one scene effortlessly transformed into another, how the place looked different but you knew it was the same, the way that this one person is really somebody else even without the slightest bit of resemblance.
It’s all hard to explain in the light of day, but it makes complete sense when you’re dreaming. That’s dream logic.
Here’s what’s wonderful about Dream Logic
In our dreams, we pursue the essential. Dreams have an emotional through-line that is riveting and compelling. Nothing makes logical sense, but everything makes complete sense to our hearts and to our souls.
In your plays, you can have your characters pursue the essential. Do the people in your dreams ever go through the “Hi, how are you?” stuff you go through in real life? No. They get right to what’s important.
In your plays, you can use an emotional through-line, just like what you pursue in your dreams. In your dreams, do you ever pursue anything that isn’t vitally important? Again, no. Whatever you pursue is always high stakes.
Dream Logic is “Plastic”
“Plasticity” in plays is everything but the words. You can see this in action when you see different productions of the same play. The different productions have different sets, different costumes, different actors, different blocking, different everything. But the impact of the play is the same (at least, as playwrights we hope it is), because no matter how different the productions are, they still serve the same text.
So why should things like scene changes, costume changes, etc., take place during scene breaks? Well, of course, they don’t always, and they don’t have to. They can take place seamlessly, just as they do in dreams.
An Example of Dream Logic
Kato and David didn’t use this example in the session, but here’s a play I think is a perfect example of dream logic: “Eurydice,” by Sarah Ruhl.
Think of all of the things that make sense in “Eurydice.”
A hotel room made of string.
Rain falling inside an elevator.
Three stones that talk.
And so on, all of this stuff that doesn’t follow the rules of waking logic. But the play is strange, wondrous, beautiful, and compelling.
More about Kato McNickle and David Crespy
Kato writes a blog, and you can find it here: http://puzzlewit.blogspot.com/.
And David’s Web site is here: http://web.missouri.edu/~crespyd/.
In my next post about Dream Logic, I’ll talk about some of the practical things Kato and David suggested about how to use your dreams as the basis for your plays.